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300: Rise of an Empire (15) **

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Pecs flex, torsos ripple and bearded men growl, but it’s a woman scorned who spills the most blood in Noam Munro’s turgid sequel (of sorts) to the 2007 swords and sandals epic.

Based on Frank Miller’s graphic novel Xerxes, 300: Rise Of An Empire unfolds before, during and after the fierce Battle of Thermopylae chronicled in the first film.

Zack Snyder, who helmed the original and has since made Watchmen and Man Of Steel, defers the director’s throne to Noam Munro. He continues the heavily stylised, slow-motion slaughter and eye-popping production design.

Once again, colours are saturated and the contrast between light and dark intensified, although jettisons of blood have lost their rich scarlet hue in the sequel, presumably to guarantee a 15 certificate given the profusion of decapitations and dismemberments.

Carnage is unrelenting, as are the legions of swaggering beefcakes with impressive sweat-glistened six-packs.

Spartan Queen Gorgo (Lena Headey) is both protagonist and narrator, succinctly summing up events at Marathon where courageous Greek general Themistokles (Sullivan Stapleton) fires the arrow that slays Persian King Darius (Igal Naor) in front of his son, Prince Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro).

‘It was Darius’s son Xerxes’s eyes that had the stink of destiny about them,’ remarks Gorgo, exemplifying the overblown floweriness of the script.

Darius’s adopted daughter Artemesia (Eva Green), who was raped and discarded by Greek soldiers, pledges to avenge the king.

She masterfully manipulates Xerxes in his hour of grief, transforming the weak-willed mortal into a strutting God-King, then leads the Persians into battle on the high seas while Xerxes overcomes King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) at Thermopylae.

All that stands between Artemesia’s vast armada is a few hundred boats under the command of Themistokles, flanked by close friend Aeskylos (Hans Matheson), brave warrior Scyllias (Callan Murphy) and his son Calisto (Jack O’Connell).

300: Rise Of An Empire intercuts footage from the superior first film with
the breathtaking action at sea. Clashes between the Greek and Persian ships are choreographed with aplomb and the 3D format comes into its own as hulls smash through the bellies of enemy ships.

But Stapleton fails to fill Butler’s huge sandals. He has neither the imposing physical presence nor the deep growl of his predecessor so when Themistokles delivers a rousing call to arms - ‘Let it be shown that we chose to live on our feet rather than die on our knees!’ - our blood isn’t even slightly stirred.

Green is more convincing as a vengeful harpie, who gleefully cuts off the head of an underperforming subordinate then steals a final kiss before tossing the dripping noggin at the camera.

Date her at your peril.

 

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